By Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH
“I see no difference between not vaccinating one’s child, thus putting at risk other children, and leaving a loaded gun lying around the house...”—Joel Harrison
July 2, 2012 (San Diego)--Parents and some doctors are up in arms about a law currently being debated in Sacramento. The new law would require "a written statement signed by a health care practitioner that indicates that the practitioner provided the parent with information regarding the benefits and risks of the immunization and the health risks of specified communicable diseases." Some parents see this as an intrusion into their right to make decisions regarding their children.
Not all children can be vaccinated. Some have autoimmune diseases, some are going through chemotherapy for cancer and some are just too young to be vaccinated. Other children may get vaccinated, but their immune systems do not build up the requisite level of immunity. How do we protect them?
Over the past few years there have been numerous cases of such children contracting vaccine-preventable diseases, resulting in hospitalizations, disabilities, and even deaths. Unvaccinated children can act as carriers for vaccine-preventable diseases brought back with them from trips abroad. They may directly, and unknowingly, infect other children. As a result unvaccinated children may help to further spread the diseases.
The law simply requires parents to consult with a doctor to ensure they truly understand the risks of the vaccine-preventable diseases as well as the risks from vaccines. Many of the anti-vaccine websites grossly exaggerate the risks from vaccines as well as downplay the risks from the actual diseases. What’s more, we live in communities. People have rights; but they also have responsibilities.
I have a suggestion. Pass a law that any parent who opts out of vaccinating their children must sign a paper that they can be charged with criminally negligent homicide if evidence shows some child died from a disease caught from their children and lesser charges if a child is simply harmed. In addition, they accept civil responsibility for damages, e.g. medical costs, loss of wages for parents staying home with a sick child, etc.
I see no difference between not vaccinating one’s child, thus putting at risk other children,and leaving a loaded gun lying around the house or allowing an underage child without a driver’s license access to the family vehicle.
If a family lives out in the middle of nowhere and home schools their children, fine; but if they live in a community where their children come into contact with other children, either in school or elsewhere, then rights must be balanced with responsibility. Simply requiring a consultation with a physician to ensure they “truly” understand the risks and benefits of vaccinating their children as well as the risks to other children is not all that intrusive compared with what is at stake here, namely, the health and welfare of not only their own children but other children in the community.
Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH, a native San Diegan, is a epidemiologist. He has worked in the areas of preventive medicine, infectious diseases, medical outcomes research, and evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. He is currently active in supporting the adoption of a single-payer health care system in the U.S. For more information on single-payer go to Physicians for a National Health Program’s website at www.pnhp.org
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